An age-old fable that teaches self-esteem

One day a young man came to the Teacher and said:

“I came to you because I feel so pathetic and worthless that I do not even want to be alive. Everyone around me is saying that I’m a loser, a useless idiot. I need your help, Teacher.”

The Teacher, glancing at the young man, hurriedly responded:

“I’m sorry, but I’m very busy right now, so I can not help you. I need to urgently settle a very important matter.” He added: “But if you agree to help me in my quest, then I will gladly help you in yours.”

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“With … with pleasure, Teacher,” he muttered, noting with bitterness that he was once again being treated as less important.

“Very well,” said the Teacher. He removed from his left little finger a small ring with a beautiful stone.

“Take the horse and ride down to the market square! I need to urgently sell this ring to pay a debt. Try to get as high a price as you can get and do not agree to the price lower than a gold coin under any circumstances! Head down and return as soon as possible!”

The young man took the ring and rode away. Arriving at the market square, he began to offer the ring to the merchants. At first, they looked upon the ring with interest.

asian wisdom fable abut self-esteem

However, when they heard about the gold coin, they immediately lost all interest in the ring. Some openly laughed in his face, others simply turned away, and only one elderly merchant kindly explained to him that a gold coin is too high a price for such a ring and that only a copper coin, or at the very most a silver one, can be gotten for it.

Hearing the old man’s words, the young man was very upset because he remembered the Teacher’s order was not to lower the price below a gold coin. The young man tried again. He went around the whole market offering the ring to a good hundred people. Defeated, the young man once again saddled his horse and returned. Feeling like a failure, he approached the Teacher.

“Teacher, I was not able to complete your assignment,” he said sadly. “At best, I could have gotten a pair of silver coins for the ring, but you ordered not to settle for less than gold! I don’t know whether this ring is worth a gold coin.”

“You just said very important words, son!” replied the Teacher. “Before trying to sell the ring, it would be nice to establish its true value! Well, who could do that better than a jeweller? Ride down to the jeweller and ask him how much he will offer us for the ring. Only, whatever he tells you, do not sell the ring. Come back to me.” The young man again jumped on his horse and went to the jeweller.

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The jeweller took his time examining the ring through a magnifying glass. He then weighed it on small scales and, finally, turned to the young man:

“Tell the Teacher that I can not give him more than fifty-eight gold coins at this time.” But, if he gives me two days, I’ll buy the ring for seventy, given the urgency of the matter.

“Seventy coins?” the young man laughed happily. He thanked the jeweller and rushed back in full gallop.

“Sit down here,” said the Teacher, listening to the young man’s animated story. “And know, son, that you are this very ring. Precious and irreplaceable! Only a true expert can appreciate you. So why are you walking around the bazaar, expecting the first person to do this?”


The fable doesn’t address the existence of incompetent or fraudulent jewellers, but you get the point. It is to find the right assessor, a jeweller. I like the fable, but I don’t really use this view of self-esteem. It is always a recipe for unhappiness to rely on someone else to tell you your worth, whoever the proverbial jeweller may be: a loved one, a boss, a child, whoever.

For me personally, self-esteem is something that comes free with being alive. I take a Nietzsche-like view on it: to be alive in an of itself is valuable, here and now. No need to wait for a heaven or an enlightenment, no need for approval from other entities. You are responsible for your actions and adaptations, but that’s all you can do. Something somewhere conspired to create the reader and me despite the seemingly omnipresent entropy of the world. Isn’t that enough proof for the fact that we’re worth a lot?

This logic breaks down if you look around and see other people as being worthless. Thing is, I don’t. That’s not to say that I’ve never met anyone I don’t like, but I genuinely see every living creature as worthy (though for some of them, I prefer that they exercise their worthiness somewhere away from me, for example, the family of carpet moths that infested my living room a few years ago. I wish I could let them live, but alas, it was them or me.)

So my answer is that we have to be our own jewellers. Moreover, we should spend most of our time purifying the metal and finding the clearest and most precious stones for what we bring to the world rather than worrying whether we can sell for one, 58 or 70 coins.